The Jamaica Bay complex includes the marine and tidal wetland
portions of the bay itself as well as the barrier beach/dune system and
some adjoining upland shrub and grassland. Jamaica Bay is a saline to
brackish, eutrophic estuary with a mean depth of 13 feet. According
to the NY GAP land cover data, the site includes approximately 2,000
acres of salt marsh habitat. It is situated in the midst of the New
York City metropolitan area. The uplands around the bay, as well as
much of the Rockaway barrier beach are developed. About 12,000 of
the original 16,000 acres of wetlands in the bay have been filled in.
Extensive areas have been dredged for navigation channels and to
provide fill for airports and other construction projects. The site hosts
breeding diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) and plants
such as seabeach amaranth (Amaranthus pumilus), seabeach knotweed
(Polygonum glaucum), Schweinitz?s flatsedge (Cyperus schweinitzii),
and slender flatsedge (Cyperus filiculmis). U.S. National Park Service?s
Gateway Recreation Area encompasses the largest portion of wildlife
habitat, but some land is owned or administered by the New York
City Department of Parks and Recreation, NYS OPRHP, and many
private landowners.

Ornithological Summary

This is a critical saltwater wetland habitat supporting a renowned
abundance and diversity of shorebirds, waterfowl, gulls, terns, and
other species. During migration, the site hosts 600-1,200 Black-bellied
Plovers (1% or more of the North American population), 200-1,600
Red Knots (1% or more of the eastern flyway population), and more
than 35 other shorebird species. The beaches are breeding sites for 20-
30 (22 in 1996) pairs of Piping Plovers (1% or more of the east coast
population; 9% of the state population); 4,500-6,000 (5,830 in 1995) pairs
of Laughing Gulls (99% of state population); 2-4 pairs of Roseate Terns;
2,000-3,000 (2,078 in 1996, 2,737 in 1995) pairs of Common Terns (1%
or more of east coast population; 11-16% of state population); 30-80 (38
in 1996, 77 in 1995) pairs of Forster?s Terns; 70-200 (73 in 1996, 189 in
1994) pairs of Least Terns (2-7% of state population); and 190-250 (250
in 1996) pairs of Black Skimmers (51% of state population). The area is
an important waterfowl wintering area as well, with healthy numbers
of Brant and scaup. A hawk watch within the complex tallies 5,000-
6,000 plus hawks each year, including several Peregrine Falcons.

Conservation Issues

This site is listed in the 2002 Open Space Conservation Plan as a
priority site under the project name Jamaica Bay Protection Area.
Development of remaining open space within the complex is a
concern. A 302-acre site that hosts breeding Piping Plovers, along
the Atlantic Ocean beaches of the Rockaway Peninsula, is being
considered for development. Pollution is an ongoing problem, though
great improvements have been made in recent decades. Sewage,
storm drain outflow, and contaminated sediments are ongoing issues.
Swimming and shell fishing are prohibited, and health advisories
warn against fish consumption. The portions of the complex owned
and managed by the National Park Service as part of the Gateway
National Recreation Area are under competing pressures for various
public recreational uses, including biking, surf-fishing, sunbathing,
swimming, concerts, and educational programs. These uses may
sometimes conflict with the needs of birds and other wildlife and
should be weighed carefully. Serious concern has been raised about
disappearing marsh habitat, and a number of organizations are
involved in researching and addressing this issue. A symposium
and public forum on the disappearing marsh issue was held in 2004.
New York City Audubon has surveyed Canarsie Pol as part of their
Harbor Herons surveys and monitoring should continue.

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